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After becoming disabled as a teenager, I went to university, obtained a first class degree, then completed a PhD. While I worked extremely hard, none of this would have been possible without the support of Disabled Student Allowance (DSA), which covers the extra costs for equipment and assistance disabled students may require in order to study at university.
This is why I was aghast to learn that the government has just announced plans to cut DSA.
Couched under the language of “modernisation”, “targeting funds at those who need it most”, “fairness”, is hidden the reality of an estimated 60 to 70% cut in funding.
At a time when Higher Education funding is at its lowest, the cost is being shunted onto universities, ill equipped and unprepared to deal with this. This is a bit like suddenly asking employers to take over the funding and admin for Access to Work.
The government plans to make several key changes of which I will highlight just three:
1) DSA will no longer pay for “basic” computers and peripherals (even though required due to disability). This is justified by saying that “96% of students already own a laptop or netbook”.
Bizarrely this assumption is based entirely on a marketing survey conducted by the NUS for the company Endsleigh in 2013. This was conducted by email and only reached 1704 students, just 1% of the UK student population. The proportion of disabled students who responded is not stated.
Given the repercussions of this decision one would have hoped that the government would undertake a full and proper analysis of the computer equipment privately available to disabled students entering university.
When I was doing my undergraduate degree, I was often too ill to leave my room. I was therefore unable to take advantage of the numerous public computers available onsite, often a mere 200 yards away. A private computer was indispensable, due to my illness and disability and I would not have completed my degree without it.
DSA funded a private PC for me. BUT, it wasn’t anything fancy and so under these proposals would no longer be granted.
I am certainly not unique. The National Association of Disability Practitioners submitted a report to the BIS call for evidence in summer 2013 which explained in detail why disabled students may not be able to use the IT facilities provided on campus and justifying the provision of such equipment to disabled individuals where needed.
I very much doubt every single new disabled student arriving at university in 2015 will own a computer. What will happen to those disabled students similar to me? Will they fail where I did not simply due to a change in funding policy?
2) The government will only fund the most specialist support workers.
When digging a bit deeper this turns out to be bands 3 and 4 of the non medical help services.
This means that the following help will NOT be funded:
- practical Support assistant
- library Support assistant
- Workshop/laboratory assistant
- Sighted Guide
- proof reader
- Study assistant
- examination Support Workers
- Manual Notetakers